5 Things to Do After Graduation

Sunday, June 17, 2018

I often regret not taking a longer break between graduation and starting work full time.
I entered a summer college program before high school graduation, and then held internships every summer thereafter. And once I submitted my last undergraduate final, I packed up and dashed off for a two-week break in London before my first day of work -- again, opting out of the graduation ceremony. I actually don't think this was the best idea. I'll never again have guilt-free vacation time until I retire, and this is a rare stage in our lives where every member of my family has the financial independence, health, and energy to travel together. On a more personal note, my loved ones are scattered around the world (my family and sister in Taiwan, my parents/other family in different states, my boyfriend in the UK, etc.) and it feels increasingly impossible for us to ever congregate in the near future.
Though I am proud of myself for always putting my career/professional development first, I wish I'd spent more time with the people I care about.

Post-graduation isolation, depression, and anxiety are incredibly common, regardless of whether you've secured markers of success like independent housing, a well-paying job, etc. Your tribe disperses and it becomes so much harder to form organic, meaningful friendships. There is no institution invested, financial or otherwise, in your mental and physical health. Stay vigilant. Develop a strategy to safeguard your personhood and happiness. Overgrown adolescence, the sloppy aesthetic, the "I don't have my life together" attitude, it's all so fucking uninspired and stale.  If you don't know how to "adult," you better figure it out. We'll do it together.

1. Evaluate your financial situation, objectives, and priorities.
If you have student loans or credit card debt, assess the damage and figure out how you can pay it off as quickly as possible. I don't think it's my place to give anybody financial advice per se, but I really do encourage you to have an honest conversation with yourself about what you can and can't afford at this point in your life. Choose what's important to you, and let that guide your decisions. For example, I need to have a financial safety net. There is a lot I would sacrifice for that -- I don't eat out, I choose the cheapest commute possible, I have cheap/free hobbies, etc. But this frugality allows me to spend generously on what does matter to me. I travel often to Taipei and London. I pay for therapy out-of-pocket (more on this later). If dining at trendy, expensive restaurants is part of a meaningful life for you, by all means explore that as much as you can. But always be asking yourself: what is this costing me, what is this adding to my life, is it worth it? And if you haven't developed a budget or an expense tracking system yet, check out my favorite personal finance apps: Mint, Prism, and YNAB. For more wiggle room, find programs that will pay you for opening a savings/checking account. For example, I moved a chunk of my savings (minimum $10,000) to Chase, let it sit for 90 days (because I don't touch my savings, ever), and then withdrew it plus the free $350 back to my higher-interest bank of choice. Easy.

Three things that work for me: 
(1) I use my credit card like a debit card. I don't spend money I don't currently have (even if I know it's coming), and I track its balance down to the penny.
(2) I don't develop expensive habits that will be really hard to scale back in the future. For instance, as a general rule, I don't buy drinks -- that includes green juices, coffee, bottled water, alcohol, etc.  (I make an exception for Pret's Yoga Bunny, but only because I can only get it in London and that's not a habitual thing at the moment. Also, it's fucking delicious.)
(3) I create and stick to a budget. If my weekly meals budget is $30 and a Mixt salad is $14, guess what I can't have for lunch? If I've already spent my allowance for shoes/apparel for the month and a super cute pair goes on sale, I generally take the L. Set up realistic parameters, and then commit to them.

But at the same time, just hoarding a bunch of cash is pretty useless. Spend thoughtfully on what matters to you, be generous when appropriate (like taking your elders to a nice dinner every now and then), and treat yourself -- but not so often that it stops feeling special. I used to reward myself with an Einstein's bagel every Monday as an "amazing work bitch, you got out of bed" sort of thing, but then I realized that I was reinforcing super low standards.

2. Protect your mental health.
I'm especially vigilant about staying mentally healthy because I feel like the "adult" world is much less forgiving when you need a break. We don't yet have a corporate culture where it's acceptable to say things like, hey guys, I'm taking a mental health day, I won't be reachable, please cut me some slack. My metaphor for this is like owning a car. With routine maintenance and consistent care, you can reliably expect your car to serve you well. But if you let a bunch of little issues pile up, the problems and associated costs can really blow out of proportion and fuck you up. I do little things, like explicitly schedule in "introvert's alone time" during my workday where I can take a break from human interaction. And make bigger investments, like therapy sessions even when there's nothing immediately pressing. I also practice tactical journaling, which is a term I coined to sound more sophisticated than "gratitude journaling" or "happy journaling." Essentially, I gathered all the key takeaways from positive psychology research and developed a daily journaling routine that helps me "maintain a positive growth mindset and a spirit of gratitude." I know it sounds a little silly, but I've found a lot of comfort and courage in proactively clearing my mind of shitty self-doubt.

A brief overview of a day's notes:

  • 3 things that I am grateful for
  • 3 affirmations (what I acknowledge within and about myself)
  • 3 amazing things that happened today
  • 3 things I would have improved about today
  • Something I am looking forward to

3. Set personal and professional goals.
I set weekly, monthly, yearly, and 5-year personal and professional goals. I've done this since my freshman year of college, and I honestly believe it makes a difference. At the very least, it helps you articulate why you are leading the life you are. If you're in college, what is it that you want to accomplish beyond your diploma? Inversely, it can help you define actionable steps you need to take. If your goal is a promotion and pay grade increase within six months, what are some things that will help you stand out at work? Everything you do should then lend itself towards these goals. If your objective is to afford a six-day vacation to Puerto Vallarta in November, you might need to cut back on your daily Starbucks run. If you want to be married within six years but are having trouble dating, what could you be doing differently? Should you be trying dating apps? Speed dating? Being able to articulate your professional goals will also help your manager empower you to achieve them. If you know you want to earn a certain certification, they can connect you to mentors or study buddies. They'll also be more aware of when you reach these milestones, and they'll be right by your side to celebrate with you. Find your purpose, then your plan. 

4. Stop comparing yourself to others.
Since childhood, my friend group has primarily been smart, ambitious people (including CL, the smartest and most ambitious of all) who were always posed to succeed in traditional ways (via prestigious higher education and careers). We had the highest grades in school, attended the best universities, and then secured the "best" jobs -- as engineers, accountants, consultants, doctors, etc. Well, most of us. I'm not radical by any means, but I do work in a creative-ish industry, which is somewhat rarer among us. For reference, I love my current job; I'm genuinely excited to go to work every morning, and the time flies by. My work challenges both my econometrics background and my hand at design, my zeal for spreadsheets and my undying love for the literary tradition. For the first time ever, I can put all of my energy into excelling at my job, rather than into summoning the enthusiasm to show up. This has never, ever happened before in my life; and would have never happened if I'd continued to compare myself to my peers. In the past, I'd apply for and take on corporate work because it's what my classmates and friends did. I felt like if I did anything different, I would be suggesting that I'd failed at what was "normal." I went for the analytical roles even though all I fucking wanted to do was work somewhere that would appreciate, even celebrate how creative I could be. Once I stopped all that bullshit, I thrived in unimaginable ways. If your friends are brilliant and brave, as mine are, there will be so many points in your life that you feel inadequate. They will get engaged first, make more money, buy houses sooner, go on enviable vacations. If you cannot learn to celebrate their achievements, you will forever think yourself in their shadow, rather than sharing in their light.

5. Keep learning.
"We get it bitch you like to read!" Okay yes, but I also always liked school and its process of assembling, processing, and challenging information ("knowledge is inseparable from the power dynamic producing it"). I double-majored and double-minored without ever getting my diploma (I did graduate, just don't have the paperwork to show for it because I skipped graduation and frankly don't care) because I loved my education for the sake of it. There's also so much I want to learn, like hand-lettering and typography design and philosophy and my heart is often on the verge of exploding because I get so excited about random shit. I'm not unique in this. You know how sometimes college lectures would be open to the public and random people from the community would show up because they just wanted to learn about something new? Be that person! Listen in on the webinars and podcasts, take Skillshare and Coursera courses. Challenge your brain's dexterity. Pick up an instrument -- like my mom, who started learning the violin last year. Or a new language. Read a politician's memoir, and then that of their most vehement critic. Read a newspaper or five. Pick a section you don't normally peruse. There's so much you can do to fill your happy little brain and keep it curious, passionate, thrilled about the infinity of the universe and the human experience. Do it all. Have it all.

Go forth, and do all things with great love.

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